Word of the Day

maypole

A tall pole with long thin pieces of cloth fastened to the top that people traditionally danced around in England, especially on May Day.

May Day has been celebrated in the northern hemisphere, in one incarnation or another, for centuries. Predominantly falling on the 1st May, on May Day people from all around the world celebrate the first day of spring. The quintessential symbol of the May Day holiday is the maypole.



During May Day festivities, a maypole is traditionally at the centre of the celebration. A long, thin pole is erected and intertwining ribbons are attached, whereby the maypole dance is performed. This is a form of folk dance from Great Britain, Germany, and Sweden that may have originated from Germanic pagan rituals centred around fertility and the turn of spring.

The participants move in concentric circles about the garland-festooned pole, each holding a coloured ribbon, and work together to plait the fabric, unravelling it by performing the dance in reverse. The maypole is the focal point for a carefully choreographed ceremony that creates kaleidoscopic patterns of overlapping multi-coloured ribbons. It is an ancient custom still performed at spring fetes and village greens yearly.

What the maypole purportedly represents is a contentious issue. It is said to be representative of the axis mundi — or world centre — where the sky and the earth connect and four cardinal directions meet. It has also been interpreted as a phallic symbol because of pagan fertility rites. As the dancers take two separate ribbons and plait them into a new element, the process of two making three is said to be symbolic of sexual union and the creation of offspring. It is also likely that the celebrations around the maypole originate from the Germanic worshipping of sacred trees.

maypole

a tall pole with long thin pieces of cloth fastened to the top that people traditionally danced round in England, especially on May Day

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Macmillan Dictionary

Macmillan Dictionary

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